Thursday, December 7, 2023

Taking Castles

Oh, the things I get dragged into.
; )

Over on the Pedantic discord (I think) there was a minor dustup over such-n-such argument about BrOSR/Jeffrogaxian 1:1 time play not being conducive (or supported) by the 1E "domain" rules or somethin-somethin. Not a terribly big deal (IMO) as I've already settled my thoughts/feelings on 1:1 time play and I'm content to NOT tell people how to enjoy themselves when it comes to running their campaigns (folks are going to do what they're going to do till they're tired of it). 

But then Ash wrote the following: 
It is better to take existing castles, at first. This is true for literally any campaign, timekeeping or no...One of my players took over a ruined keep, and made it a stronghold. however, that same player (once the ruined keep was established) began the process of building new strongholds/buildings from scratch
To which I had to put my foot in it, with this:
Rehabbing a house (let alone a ruined castle) would be a tremendous job given the presumed state of a pseudo-medieval campaign world. You're going to get skilled laborers, masons, carpenters, etc. to come out to the middle of an orc-infested wilderness to re-build a used lair? Are you kidding? Such a place probably ain't fit for human habitation, even after you clean out the slimes, vermin, and to burn it to the ground.
And also:
Taking over a ruin (that itself was, presumably, taken over in the past by whatever monsters were lairing there) isn't as easy as just killing the critters and moving in.
As well as:
A ruin would require substantial rehabilitation after recovering it from the monstrous creatures that live there before it would be a fit habitation for your average player character type? Um...that seems pretty obvious. Though, I suppose, only if one gives a shit about world building...nothing in the rules demand such action, though I suppose a DM could make it pretty difficult for PCs using the disease tables. 
Normal folks (even adventurous PCs) don't usually want to settle down in a troll cave. And a ruin would step up from that?
Oh, AND this:
A fortress built by a humanoid tribe is quite another issue. I was talking about a once-human (or dwarf or whatever) ruin that had taken over by hobgoblins. You want to claim an orc fort as your base of operations? You want to be the guy who lives in the orc hut? What is that going to do to your PCs' reputation?
I was having a bad day, I suppose (actually I was) and was in a combative mode...silly and childish on my part. Ash later discussed the incident on the Rolling Bones v-cast, refuting my protestations as (in part) one example of folks not grokking how domain play can function when running an AD&D campaign with 1:1 time. Which wasn't really the case...or, rather, wasn't really the point I was trying to communicate. The POINT, in fact, was just that taking over a ruin (or a lair or a "dungeon") for use as a stronghold isn't something to be done on a whim or a lark.

Doesn't mean you can't do so...I've had my own musings regarding taking such action. However, one should note that even back in 2009 (the hay-day of my adult B/X play), I was't so glib as to say such would be easy, and there were extenuating circumstances that made such a location worthy of consideration for my toad-worshipping cleric; observe the thoughts of "Younger Me:"
Sure, it would take a little work to get it up and running (a rickety bridge would need to be replaced, new furnishings added, kicked-in doors re-built). But for the most part, the place was of good dwarvish construction, had its own water supply, was located only a day from civilization (a little out-of-the way from curious travelers, but not inconvenient for obtaining supplies). Plus the waterfall and underground pond/river, and the small pool outside all said, “great-place-to-worship-amphibious-deity” to me.
Even at the tender age of 36 (before I'd started to grasp the importance of world-building and thoughtful campaign planning), I had an inkling that such undertakings would not be a walk-in-the-park. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but rewards of value (even in D&D-land) require effort. DMs that skimp on the effort do so at their own peril. Yes, the game is a game and we want to maintain its "game-ness;" however, we don't want it to devolve into Ren-faire farce. That way lies contempt, much the same as fudging dice rolls.

Every would be stronghold-nee-lair requires its own consideration in this regard. When the Starks retake WinterFell from the Boltons, it's mainly a job of policing the corpses and cleaning bloodstains off the cobblestones. In other words: normal castle maintenance (in a violent D&D world anyway). But that's humans taking a human habitation from humans that were using it for the same purpose (human habitation) that it was originally intended. We're not talking about a place with walking deads, acid-dripping slimes, otughs and owlbears. We're not talking about a ruin or a tomb or a "dungeon."

I discussed this with my nine year old daughter (1E player): she was aghast at the idea. "It's a ruin! You'd need to fix it before living in it!" The idea of living in a place once inhabited by monsters sounded crazy to her. What kind of stench is left behind by a tribe of goblins or gnolls? How about the walking corpses that roamed the halls?

Yes, orcs build their own longhouses and forts, but how long to air the thing out once the orcs are gone? Do they employ glaziers? Doubtful given their aversion to sunlight. Would a lair built by inhuman hands be suitable for human habitation? Maybe. A goblin or kobold hall would probably have low ceilings; a fortress built to accommodate giants might have really, really heavy doors.

The desire for PCs to own property...some place to stash their treasure, some place to act as a base of a natural desire, and one likely to come up sooner rather than later in any established campaign. And such desires are likely to come up long before their characters reach 9th level or find an excess of gold burning holes in their trousers...why not use one of these cleaned out lairs as "adventurer HQ?" It's got walls and a roof, doesn't it?

But in a well-designed campaign, "walls and a roof" aren't the only consideration. Living in a cave (or under a bridge) is fine-and-dandy for a nest of trolls. But that's not a suitable demesne for a group of 5th and 6th level PCs, despite the expedience of such a shelter. Regardless of a lair's defensibleness, it's location (in a swamp, on a mountain top, underground, whatever) just might not make it livable. Probably not a place to entertain the local duke, or the princess, or the wizard that has a quest for you.

That's the thing: an orcish hill fort, a crumbling tower, a haunted moathouse...these are not places one wants to set up shop, generally speaking. Unless they are in an ideal location (close to resources...both material and personnel), and possibly not even then. The hobgoblin fortress had been lording it over the local villagers for years, and now they've been wiped out...but does it still stand as a symbol of degradation and malevolence? Is it a constant reminder of slavery and subjugation? Should it not be torn down and something new, bright and hopeful, be erected in its place?

Maybe not...maybe such issues don't arise in your campaign. Or maybe, like me, it appeals to your dark humor to build your base in a rustic humanoid have a certain penchant for the dramatic flair of Kraven the Hunter, and relish the idea of a PC warlord whose stronghold is decorated in skulls and antlers and the occasional banner sewn from skinned humanoid. Even then, it's generally going to take your character(s) a while to bring the place up to snuff. 

No site is going to be "move in ready" from the jump. Cheaper than building your own castle? Sure. Faster to rehab then quarrying the stone and prepping the timber. 100%. But no easy-breezy.

And me saying that has nothing to do with robbing players of their "shortcuts;" it CAN be a "shortcut" to claim Quasqueton as your new abode. Of course it can! And that's a nice little reward (on top of whatever loot you plumbed from it) for cleaning out the various monsters and villains, undead and vermin, that had (previously) spent YEARS if not DECADES (or CENTURIES) leaving their filth all over the place: bones and excrement and the detritus of uncared for interior structures. If I don't vacuum my house every couple weeks, the floors get FILTHY, and I'm just raising two kids, not a tribe of kobolds that cook indoors and aren't known for washing much. Don't forget Gygax included systems for dealing out diseases and parasitic infections, too!

It's not "screwing the players" to make them work a bit turning a hovel into a home; it's simply common sense (oh! that phrase!). Some things (some!) can be inferred from our own maybe there are times when PCs should take off their armor and unbuckle their sword belts. We don't need to have overly complex systems in place to handle cleanup operations, but neither should we simply hand-waive such inconveniences...unless (maybe) PCs have access to a pocket djinni or similar. TIME. MONEY. These are the driving factors of the D&D game. Hand-waive them at your own peril. 

NOW...does all this seem like some argument against using 1:1 time in your campaign/game? Maybe. Fact is, the thought hadn't really crossed my mind, even when I was initially putting my foot in my mouth. As I said, I'm not interested nor worried in the slightest about the debate over whether or not 1:1 time is valid or "the only valid" way to play D&D. That debate has no influence over how I run my campaign. In general, I run AD&D based on the guidelines in the DMG ("G" for "guide," yeah?)...and the DMG includes notes for construction and labor and materials. So why shouldn't I use those notes and instructions...both for players wishing to build their own castles, and as inspiration (and guidelines) when it comes to how challenging it'll be to re-hab the party's new (half-destroyed) digs. 

Hope all that makes sense and doesn't overly annoy too many people. G'night!
; )

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Storming the Forbidden City


For the Cauldron convention, I decided I would run a number of scenarios based on the classic (TSR) adventure I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City, an AD&D (1E) module I've blogged about on more than one occasion.

There was, of course, a little impishness to my choice: the (main) convention organizer (the much esteemed Settembrini) is an outspoken critic of David "Zeb" Cook, author of Forbidden City. While I agree that there's plenty to criticize about Zeb's work, it's not ALL bad, and I'm trying, Ringo, to be a Good Shepherd these days...even when it's so darn hard not to be the overly negative 'Tyranny of Evil Men.'

[that's a 90s film reference for you young 'uns]

ANYhoo...I1. Great adventure (IMO) and one I hadn't run in a while. Also, fairly massive in scope (if sketchy in the details): a whole city full of potential danger and antagonists. Far too much for a 4-hour convention time slot...and, yet, the adventure as originally conceived was designed for tournament (convention) play.  The thought that struck me: can I rehab this thing and make it a showstopper?

Having decided to give it a shot, I hit upon the following strategy:
  1. I would offer three separate, successive scenarios, all set in the Forbidden City.
  2. Each scenario would "ramp up" in difficulty (expected level of participating PC).
  3. Each scenario would present a different environmental/situational challenge, despite using the same theme.
  4. Each scenario would offer enough reward ("treasure") to level up the presumed party, allowing players who wished to continue to play each successive scenario.
For the first scenario ("To Rescue A Prince") I used the original tournament scenario from the module (section "A" of the I1 publication). Section A consists of a linear map with 10 encounter areas, including several challenging set pieces. For this scenario, I changed very little of the original scenario; designed for six characters of levels 4th - 7th level, the original pre-gens actually average 6th level. So, I tightened it up by making sure no pregens under 5th would be allowed, made sure I had eight available, and upped the treasure take to ensure that even the 5th level PCs could expect to rise in level...should they survive and succeed at their objective.

I removed the sleep gas trap (it really doesn't make sense, and the reverse gravity field is enough as far as the "reasons" for its inclusion) and changed the bugbears to skulks, which I felt were a little more thematic given the jungle theme while retaining (more-or-less) the danger level (semi-invisible backstabbers are on-par with wookies that more easily surprise).  I previously wrote about the play-testing of this scenario, and found that four hours was just a tiny bit too short to get through, though I chalked that in part due to the party's wizard getting eaten by crocs in the first encounter and thus having some difficulty with the more populated encounters (tasloi and whatnot).

[unfortunately, even though the Cauldron party retained their MU (and, in fact, carried a second spell-caster...a fighter/magic-user) the convention group would still fail to make it to the final encounter in the four-hour time slot]

My second convention scenario ("The House of Horan") was also taken directly from I1. The wizard Horan is named as the mastermind behind the newly organized and ambitious raiding groups from the City; he resides with his apprentice in a well-kept, walled compound that contains his house, gardens, and more than a few guardsmen (bullywugs, leopards, and...*sigh*...bugbears). For a con, I set the adventure one week following the first, giving adequate time for the party to recover their strength and (as background/intro to the scenario), discover through careful scouting this "suspicious stronghold" in the midst of the ruined city.

Horan's house is quite a different scenario from the linear affair that is the original tournament adventure. It is, in fact, extremely open: a classic housebreaking situation, the PCs are given full autonomy to decide how they approach the thing. It is exceptionally dangerous, even for a party of 6th - 8th level PCs; the first time I play-tested, it resulted in a TPK. The second play-test wasn't much better, despite the PCs knowing (somewhat) what to's just very difficult to tackle a 12th level wizard in his home, if he's prepared for such a possibility with reasonable defenses. 

[the Cauldron players fared all right: a couple deaths, a couple zero-outs, but they managed to conquer the wizard while playing on the edge of their seats. It was a near thing...which is the way I like to run adventures, just by the way]

For the third scenario ("Shrine of the Demon Goddess"), I crafted an entirely new adventure: a three level, traditional dungeon of 27 encounters for 7th - 9th level characters. As readers might surmise from the title there is, in fact, a demon in the thing: a type V demon, inspired by (and foreshadowed by) the first encounter location of the tournament adventure:
"The walls of the alcove are worked with carvings of snakes and men in a pastoral scene and at its back stands a large statue of a snake-bodied, six-armed woman."
The adventure module, as published, has no real "base of operations" or headquarters of yuan-ti...something that's been pointed out by plenty of folks, along with a general "incompleteness" to the thing. But the very incompleteness provides plenty of potential for DMs/designers to add to the Forbidden City...which is what I did, creating a temple within a temple, complete with catacombs, remnants of the prior (pre-snake) religion/culture, and a Hell-like cavern section full of dretches and assorted badness, including a pool of inky black capable of transforming normal folks into snake-folk.

The City: lots of room for more lairs.

Good stuff, in other words.

Scenario three also has plenty of treasure squirreled away, at least three large pockets of it. When play-tested at home, my players found troves #1 and #3...the Cauldron players found #2 and, yes, it all turned out as decidedly deadly as a DM could ask for (if you're giving away big heaping piles of loot, there better be the potential for a decent body count). 

*ahem* I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City is available at DriveThru for a grand total of $4.99 (PDF only...sorry), it's easy enough for people to see the bulk of my first two scenarios, including maps. As for the third scenario? Eh...I'll probably just make it available here on Ye Old Blog as a free download in the next few days...just as soon as I can get my maps scanned. And, yes, it will contain my notes/changes (especially treasure counts) for the first two scenarios. Look for, probably.

All right...that's enough for now. I'll talk some of the specifics of my Cauldron play experience in a future post.

: )

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

And Finally (*sigh*) Blood Bowl

This will not be a long post. 

We are 12 games through the (now) 17 game season...more than 70%. The end is fast approaching and the Seahawks are probably looking at missing the playoffs. Losing to the Rams twice means the skaven have the tie-breaker over us (even though they are a bad, bad team).  The Packers, Lord help us, are probably going to get 10 wins down the stretch with their remaining schedule. And the Vikings, despite all their woes might...might...even have a chance to sneak in over us. 

Even after a 6-3 start. Even after acquiring everything Pete Carroll said they needed to acquire in the off-season, two years running: offensive linemen. Pass rushers. More stellar defensive backs. Bobby Wagner. And more offensive weapons (Charbonnet and Smith-Njigma) to add to a full cupboard of offensive weapons (Metcalf, Lockett, Walker).

What. The. Hell. Is the problem?

Orks. Orks being orks. That's it.

Oh...and Jamal Adams. And Geno Smith.

Smith is...fine. He's an ork thrower: no more, no less. Not every team in the NFL is composed of high elves and wood elves...they just ain't. There are those teams, make no mistake. But the Seahawks have never been that type of outfit...not when they've been good, certainly not when they've been bad. They are a waaagh team; always have been. We can go down the list:

Jim Zorn: ork thrower
Dave Krieg: ork lineman (but with a lot of star skills)
Rick Mirer: ork thrower (add dodge...happy feet!)
Warren Moon: ork thrower (with a LOT of arm talent, despite being long in the tooth)
Matthew Hasselbeck: ork thrower (good number of star player points)
Tavaris Jackson: ork thrower
Russell Wilson: goblin (with a lot of star player skills)

[there really no need to mention guys like Gelbaugh, McGwire, Stouffer, Whitehurst...oh, boy, we've had some baaaaad ork QBs]

None of these guys fit the mold of the high elf...or even human!...thrower. And that's fine. In Blood Bowl, ork throwers are plenty serviceable. No, they're not going to be setting any passing records (on this team...Moon did most of his damage before coming to the 'Hawks).  But that's not the orks' game. They are grinders that play solid defense.

Problem here is you're counting on a damn goblin to play linebacker.

I am sorry, Jamal Adams. I know I've called you trash before (and a "pigeon") later retracting the former accusation. But you're an idiot. Not only were you the obvious target in the Dallas game (giving up a touchdown and 2-point conversion on back-to-back plays against the dark elves), but then you take shots at a critical reporter's wife? Pretty f'ing classless, considering the impact you've had this year while healthy (spoiler: zero sacks, which is especially damning when you consider A) this is supposed to be his specialty and B) 12 different Seahawks have at least one sack this season, including guys who aren't even starters). What an a-hole.

SO...ork thrower (Gino). Fine. But, generally, not going to win you any games with his arm. Going to have some good offensive performances (vs. Detroit, Dallas) and some stinkers (Rams, Niners) depending on how the dice fall. That's to be expected. But when you're giving up a bunch of points on defense, it makes it tough for the orks to catch Blood Bowl, ork teams are just not built that way.

I've talked about it before: the NFL has a LOT of similarities to BB, the way it's structured. Most NFL teams have a maximum of 7 or so STAR (i.e. standout) players on their roster; the others are position guys who are...fine. Nothing special. How the Stars perform (and how the coaches use the players they have) are going to go a long way towards determining the outcome of games. Seahawks current stars this year include:

Kenneth Walker III (blitzer)
Abe Lucas (black ork blocker)
DK Metcalf (blitzer)
Tyler Lockett (goblin)
Jackson Smith-Njigba (goblin)
Bobby Wagner (blitzer)
Devon Witherspoon (goblin)

And Walker's hurt. And Lucas has been injured for most of the season (he just came back, in the Cowboys game, and it showed on offense).

Charles Cross is a black ork blocker. Jordyn Brooks and Charbonnet are standard blitzers. The tight ends (and Jake Bobo) are simply lineorks. And Adams is nothing but a goblin who woofs at opposing teams every time he makes a tackle on some "big guy," even though he gave up 12-15 yards (and a first down). 


Sevenbastard suggested (in the comments of my last post) there might be some worry about the Seahawks winning another game this season. This is not my worry...I am CERTAIN the Seahawks will win another game. Heck, I'm 95% sure they'll win THREE more games, achieving a 9-8 record...a winning season in a year where every team plays 17 games. 

But I don't see them making the playoffs this year...not if they insist on continuing to play Adams on defense...and they have shown that they absolutely Will NOT Stop playing this guy, no matter how bad he sucks. They let Ryan Neal WALK even though he showed...again and again...that despite his cheap salary, he was a better asset on the field as a replacement when Adams was injured. It may just be that the Seahawks managed to get to the playoffs last year precisely because Jamal was out (he played only one game in the 2022 season) and Seattle was forced to make do with "lesser" talent. 

You play the pigeon, and opposing teams will target the pigeon. 

And 9-8 simply will not cut it this year when it comes to making the playoffs. And THAT is disappointing. Because there is a LOT of star power on the Seahawks team...real star power, real talent. And it would be nice to see them do some damage in the playoffs.

Ork teams cannot rely on goblins. That's just not good roster construction.

SO...just like the 90s, we're going to see a middling record, and a middling draft pick and a tough time clawing our way out of this hole. The Seahawks aren't exactly "risk averse" (when it comes to picking players), but they can be loyal to a fault, and doubling down on their mistakes (like Adams) is going to hurt them. It's already hurt them. Second chances are cool, but sometimes you have to admit you were wrong and cut bait.

*sigh* It's oh so silly. It's just entertainment. It's just live-action Blood Bowl.

By the way, I am fully aware that I am (probably) being overly harsh on a guy who's selling his body for my entertainment. Oh, well. I'm a fan...that's what fans do. He's paid millions of dollars (in a league that has a hard salary cap). I'm allowed to be critical. 

At least I continue to watch the Seahawks. At this point, I've all but decided to boycott the Mariners.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Sunday NIght Musings

Man, I started writing a post...mmm...yesterday morning (I think)?...a whole 'hey, I'm back, here's what's up, here's what I'm doing, blah-blah-blah' thing, with some sort of half-hearted segue into role-playing theory.

Let's forget all that for the nonce.

The 2023 year has nearly slipped away from me, at this point. 47 posts at this lowest output total since starting this blog in 2009. Wow. Crap. That's what happens when you have a bunch of f'ing family members die on you, I suppose. 

And yet, some stellar game related stuff occurred, too. Ran some great D&D sessions. Campaign is struggling, limping along, but it's still going. Got to Germany for Cauldron...that was fantastic. Got my submission in for Prince's "No Art-Punk" contest for the third year running...that was, mm, grueling, but a hell of an accomplishment, considering the time constraints. So much travel this year (California, Port Angeles, Montana, Germany, Mexico). So much...

I need a break. And, yet, I don't. I need to do more work. More Work work (capital-W)...more vocational work. This game, this's my calling. It's what I do. Dumb as that is.

[just some Sunday night musings]

Been spouting off on a lot of different outlets lately. Mainly Discord servers. A podcast or two. In person (at the Cauldron convention). Other places. Some people care what I have to say; others don't. Some care but don't understand. All that's okay. Mainly I just have to be slightly careful of how I present information...I don't want some folks to make the wrong inference just because I wasn't thoughtful enough in my monologue.

Take the Cauldron convention, for instance: I set about crafting three different scenarios for it with very specific objectives. I like how they turned out...they more-or-less fulfilled my objectives. But do I think that my approach was the "right" approach? Or the "best" approach? Or the "only appropriate" approach that I could have taken? No...not at all! I created mid-level adventure scenarios with lots of danger (and lots of treasure) specifically because of the convention setting and its adherence to ADDKON rules (the German equivalent of the old FLAILSNAILS Conventions). I was writing scenarios for people to bring their home campaign PCs, place in danger, and yet reap big rewards (if successful).

I could have just easily run some sort of High Level one-off to showcase AD&D's extended potential. Or I could have run low level AD&D play, to demonstrate the survivability of such characters (in clear contrast to B/X play). Heck, there's lots of things I could have done for the con, but I figured I'd rather give the players some real up-the-ante, risk-reward stuff. Because if you're going to let players bring their own hard-ridden characters...then, yeah, let's give 'em some good stuff!

But I have to explain this to folks: I have to be explicit that just because I'm writing/running mid-level adventures does not mean that I presume this is "the best tier of play" or something. Honestly, I don't think there is a "best" tier of play...ALL tiers offer different experiences of game play, and the Great Joy of D&D...more specifically, Advanced D& that it facilitates game play at ALL these tiers. 

[and, what's more, it's possible to mix-and-match within the tiers...though that's a story for different day]


Man, I've been spending far too much time lately on social media platforms, particularly Discord. It's just so nice to interact with other humans who both A) have an understanding of, and B) give a rip about D&D gaming. But I think I'm going to cut back a bit...that, as much as anything, has contributed to the lightness of blog posts this year. Too many times someone has posted a query or a thought exercise or a subject of conversation that I've been all-too-willing to engage with (in long-winded format) when what I could be doing is writing about the topic Right Here. It might not be especially "deep," but it is (generally) on game-related (i.e. "on topic") and it gives my readership a reason to come back besides looking at old posts about yadda-yadda.

*sigh* More later...time to sleep.

[posted Monday morning, as I could barely keep my eyes open]

Friday, November 10, 2023

News & Notes

Good morning! Hope everyone fortunate enough to have the day off today is enjoying their holiday (it's Veterans Day, here in the States). My kids are out of school, so they are sleeping in this morning...I, myself, woke up at 6:30am (not unusual) and went back to sleep till 7:40 (very unusual). Brewing myself some coffee at the moment...ratio of decaf-to-caf is approximately 5:1.

I appreciate all the condolences and kind thoughts expressed over the passing of my dog...thank you so much. Life continues to move on (as always), and everyone here is fine (more-or-less). It's still a little odd the small ways I miss her...many of my habitual behavioral patterns (closing doors, locking gates, guarding food, sealing off trash cans) were adapted over the years to compensate for my incorrigible rascal of a dog, and now every time I brush up against that, I feel a small void of emptiness. It's a bit more immediate than the loss of my mother...though it brings up a similar feelings, as this is the kind of thing I would get on the phone and call her about, causing me to confront (again) her absence. 


ANYway...moving on to the "news and notes." Apologies for not yet get my AP reports out from the Cauldron convention; those are still coming, and should get typed up (*hope*hope*) before the end of the month. Others (Ghoul, Melan, Prince) have provided their own post-con reports, so if you're interested in the German, Hungarian, and Dutch (respectively) perspectives on the event, I'd direct you to their blogs:

(yes, they're all written in English)

For myself, I've been rather busy lately with the current writing project (writing? What a shock!). The deadline for the NAP III contest draws near, and I have only begun writing up my entry. It's a rather large one. My first NAP submission (Hell's Own Temple) was all of ten pages and 18(ish) numbered encounters. My second NAP submission (Ship of Fate) doubled the number of encounters and ran to 17 pages PLUS an additional six pages of pregen characters. Those I knocked out in a couple-three days.

This one's...a bit bigger. Double+ the size of my last adventure in terms of numbered encounters, three appendices, plus a dozen pregens. The thing is currently in a "mostly outline" state, and it's already 14 pages. 

Have not yet started the stocking spreadsheets; have not yet drawn a single map.

Instead, I've spent the last ten days "sharpening the axe," diving deeply into the lore and figuring out how...really how...the adventure works and interacts with my own campaign world. There may not be a lot of the Emerald Empire in the thing, but there will be some. The adventure is set in the Idaho Deathlands, after all. Troop numbers and resources and geography are all being drawn from my home setting. It's a doozy.

And while I'm pretty sure I'll be able to finish the thing with alacrity (my push to have adventures ready for Cauldron showed me what's possible), I am running up against an additional time constraint: my imminent trip to Mexico. The family is leaving town next Friday...the first time we'll be traveling to see our family and friends down south since 2020 (2019? maybe). Everyone is, of course, excited. But if I don't have this thing knocked out (or mostly written) before I leave Friday morning, chances are slim that I'll be able to complete it before the end of November. Polishing I can do in my in-laws house. But scanning maps? No...and I'm not going to be bringing a bunch of books and reference materials either.

SO...six-ish days is about what I have left to finish the thing (we'll be back on the 27th, but a day or two to recover from the trip will mean almost no time before hitting "send" on the email). And it's not like I have six full weekends afford me very little time to write. The bulk of my work comes when my kids are at school and the wife is at the office. 

Or early mornings. Hmm...maybe I shouldn't have slept in...

But, there it is...I'll be pushing through and (if the blog is sadly silent) my readers won't be wondering whether I've fallen off some cliff or something. Just busy. In fact, I should probably log off now and clean the kitchen. The damn dishwasher broke down a couple days ago and I have to do all the washing up by hand...and last night I cooked a rather large feast of pork shoulder, Brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes.

And...oh, crap. It's my birthday in three days. The Big 5-0. And I'm sure the fam wants to do something for me. Something that will no doubt eat into my time. Crap.

All right, all right...I've got to go. More updates in a few days!

Monday, November 6, 2023


I am posting this today to mark the passing of my last "running beagle," Chewbacca ("Chewie"). Sixteen and one-half years she was with us...longer than either of my human children...she was a dear pet and great comfort to my wife and I through countless hard times. 

I could eulogize her for thousands of words, but suffice is to say she was greatly loved by my family and she will be greatly missed.  It is amazing the impact the loss of a simple animal can have. It is amazing the joy that they bring into one's home.

This has been a rough year. It hasn't been six months since I buried my mother. My grandmother died shortly thereafter (her funeral service was in September). Other family members (an uncle, an aunt) have also passed in 2023...though their absences leave far smaller holes to fill than the others mentioned. 

The passing of my hard. I told my son this morning that (perhaps) God has made humans (and pets) mortal so that we can have a greater appreciation for each other, so that we can cherish each other more and the limited time we have on this plane of existence. We have to love...and not take for granted...the precious time we have. 

He was still sad. But he understands.

For my daughter, it is somewhat easier. For her, Chewie is running and playing in heaven, no doubt eating treats provided by Grandma, and enjoying her reunion with her brother, Buddy.

It's been pouring rain for a couple days now, which does little to lighten my melancholy mood. But it is appropriate. And comforting in its own way.

That's all for today. God bless.

Friday, November 3, 2023


Well, I did think I was going to have more time for blogging. Unfortunately, the last of the "running beagles" is on her last legs (that is to say: apparently dying) and her care has been occupying much of my attention this week. It is what it is. I still need to finish (well, start really) my NAP3 contest submission, so that I can get it in by the 30th. Fortunately, I have a plan for that.  The plan for the dog is...slower in the coming. Though it appears the writing is on the wall.

*sigh*  ANYway...on to something a little more upbeat...

One thing I neglected to mention in my post about the Cauldron convention is that I, too, won a prize: I was awarded the trophy for "Best Dungeon Master" of the tournament. I am told (by the con organizer) that this was the "most prestigious trophy" of the con (it was certainly the largest trophy). It was also stated that I won handily by "all metrics considered" including number of game sessions run and quality of game sessions run (as graded by players). I was also the undisputed leader in the "most deadly DM" category (again, as voted by the players) with some players writing-in their own categories for my games including "Very Deadly...But Fair" and "Fantasy Fucking Vietnam." I am told that the results (at least in that category) weren't particularly close. Though I also handed out a lot of treasure.

Something to keep my dice in...

I haven't blogged about this before because...well, because it's needed to sink in a bit. I did not go to the convention to win trophies, after all. I went to Cauldron to play AD&D (specifically to play with a large number of adult aficionados) and I went there to meet people who...previously...I have only known or interacted with via the (rather impersonal) internet. I know I said as much in my last post. And I meant it.

But in mulling it over, there was definitely another reason I wanted to play this particular game with these particular people.  A selfish ego-driven reason. And yet a simple reason:

I wanted to show my chops.

Look: there are a lot of faceless blowhards on the internet. Not much has distinguished me from such folks over the years (if I am at all "distinct") except, perhaps, longevity and the fact that I've published a book or two. And, truthfully, that's cool...I'm not really blogging for recognition so much as for carving myself a little forum on which to vent my meandering thoughts. It is what it is: humans crave outlets for creative expression, and I am no different. I just choose this particular hobby as my channel. Once upon a time, I might have chosen something different. But this is plenty gratifying.

And yet, when one "holds forth" and blusters with"strong opinions" as I am wont to express here, I am sure there are some who might wonder: Is this guy full of shit? Or what? And there are times myself when I am confronted with self-doubt. After all, here I am writing about the joys and wonder of playing 1st edition AD&D...and, yet, the only people I've run the game for (since starting up again) have been children. My own and those of others. Not "real people;" not adult peers, some of whom have plenty of experience and design cred under their belts. Not the kinds of people that judge like I have a tendency to judge. 

And, so, running games...AD&D (1E) games...was something I desperately wanted to do. Not just for the joy of it, but to prove to myself...and perhaps others...that I could do it. Because I still wondered. Despite all the theory-hashing. There are plenty of folks who teach because they can't do (that old chestnut). But being able to teach or speak or write with any degree of authority requires one to put into practice the preaching. To put up or shut up.

That can be a tough leap to make in this hobby. 

No,'s not because it's rocket science or particularly difficult (it truly isn't). Rather it's just because so many game masters are (like so many other people) cursed with (at least slightly) fragile egos. Far easier for the fifteen year blogger like myself to NOT take the plunge: to instead stay home and say, oh yeah, wish I could go to that but, you know, totally busy. And, thus, not even taking the field. Save the reputation from the potential hit one might take. People seeing your failings, judging you, maybe (heavens!) posting on the internet how much you suck.

It's human nature to doubt oneself at times.

So, no: I was not at the convention with the objective of competing for awards, but I was there with the aim of proving myself...both to myself and to others. ANY acknowledgement of me running a competent game would have been welcome, trophy or not.

Especially considering the quality of DM running games at Cauldron. Guys who are well-known in OSR circles...designers/writers like Gabor Lux and James Raggi and Prince of Nothing. The Germans themselves brought more than half-a-dozen 1E DMs, most of whom (I believe) are associated with Nexus, the German adventure gaming club that has really pushed hard in recent years to dig deep into AD&D and its glory. No slouches on display, in other words...just competent, confident DMs. 

So a good testing ground...and a chance to step up and show that I'm not just an idiot with a blog.

It's all very silly, of course. Crowing about...or worrying/stressing well one runs a game in a niche section of a niche section of a niche hobby. But while DMing isn't rocket science, it does take work and effort. As with any pastime, one can treat it seriously and respectfully...or not. That is: the person doing the act (i.e. the person running the game, specifically ME in this case) can treat the "DMing art" with respect, or not.

Whether the rest of the world does or does not respect the work is not (and should not be) of much concern. It's my life after time I'm spending on the effort.

Still, it's nice to have external acknowledgement. Always nice; always gratifying. Like the people who put electronic dollars in my DriveThru account every time one of my books is purchased, it is encouragement: encouragement to keep at it, to keep working, keep striving at getting better. A pat on the back and an "attaboy" probably would have been sufficient. 

But it is a nice trophy. And (sad but true) I don't think I've ever earned ANY kind of award for ANY endeavor that I cared more about than this hobby of ours. I feel stupidly, absurdly proud...just for killing a few imaginary characters and handing out imaginary treasure.

Though it probably helps that my players (my kids) thought it was pretty cool.
; )

Monday, October 30, 2023


Frankfurt, Germany. Local time is 7:59am...which means I've been up for nearly two hours. Which means I got nearly four hours of sleep.

My bio-rhythms have been off for days now; partly due to the time zone change, partly due to the excitement of the trip, and more than partly (I'm sure) due to the reintroduction of caffeine into my system after being off the stuff for the last couple months. However, I won't blame that on my inability to sleep in my (rather comfortable) hotel room. Instead, it's fear/paranoia that kept me awake till the wee hours of the morning: fear that (once asleep) I would oversleep, somehow miss my flight home as I slept in a coma-like state, immune to alarms and the pounding on the door of room service.

Solid sleep. I am hoping for some of that on the long flight back (Icelandair lifts off at 13:05pm).

For now, though, I am in my hotel room. Showered, exercised (some light stretching, as is now my habit) and breakfasted. Everything packed, save my trusty laptop. I have a couple hours before I leave to the airport...I thought I might doze for a bit, but the fear is still lurking and blogging feels a tad safer.

Where to start?

CAULDRON, AKA "The OSR Euro Con" was wonderful. It is no exaggeration for me to say it was the best convention I've attended, and the most fun I've had at any convention. I know that many people attend conventions for many reasons: for the social aspect of it, for networking, for business, or simply to swim in a sea of likeminded humanity that shares the same passion and/or interests. That is not why I attend gaming conventions: my main objective is the gaming. That may seem rather snobbish (and perhaps it is), but the fact is that my regular gaming group is anything but "regular," and my time at home (and the time and availability of the people with whom I enjoy gaming) is quite limited. Removing myself from the distractions of my everyday world and indulging in my passion...with focus and THE reason that I choose to spend money on a con of this type. The gaming takes precedence over all the other considerations.

And the gaming was very good at Cauldron.

However, those "other considerations" mentioned were excellent as well, and not just icing on the cake. The venue was lovely, the accommodations far better than I expected or hoped. The con was extremely well run, and well-organized by Nexus (the German gaming club whose brainchild it was)...there was none of the chaos or hiccups that so often occur with larger cons, and none of the "amateur hour" lack-of-planning and forethought you see in smaller ones. The food was very good. The drink was abundant (and free!)...I'd estimate I drank more Euros in free beer than my ticket price to attend the con. A lot more.

But it was the people...the attendees, the organizers, the gamers...that were the biggest highlight outside the gaming. Every person I met was lovely: joyful, positive, friendly, helpful. The energy of the place was amazing. People from all over Europe (Denmark, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the UK) were in attendance. And all there to play the Great Game.

[I wasn't the only American present, just BTW, but the others were all ex-pats living on the continent]

No acrimony, no fisticuffs, none of the silly dramas that play out over the internet. Just people sitting down with each other, connecting with each...face-to-face...and being appreciative of each other. There were geezers like me (some even older), and there were younger gamers in their teens and twenties and thirties...all mingling, sharing meals at the dining hall, discussing their perspectives on gaming (Dungeons & Dragons foremost), sharing their thoughts on the gameplay experience. And then...when the time slots commenced...taking their focus to the tables and applying their attention in a practical fashion.

It was delightful.

And I am extremely content at the moment. Very satisfied. Despite the sleep deprivation and general stress that comes with making a solo trip halfway across the world to a country in which you don't speak the language(!)...more than anything I've been buoyed by the energy (I have no better word for it. "Spirit?" Perhaps) of the people I've met and with whom I've interacted. My games went well (and I intend to detail them in future posts) but then the players were all fantastic. Prizes were awarded for various game-play categories, and all the winners sat in on at least a couple of my game sessions. I can honestly say that each was well-deserving.


8:58 local time. I am looking forward to being home and hugging my wife and children. They are all very excited to hear about the trip, see the photos I took, listen to me recount the war stories from the gaming tables (keep in mind that both my kids helped playtest the scenarios I ran...). It is going to be a long flight back, and the anticipation of seeing my family will certainly make it longer.

But I am very glad I came...very glad I made the trip out. The experience far exceeded my expectations. I can only hope that the inestimable Settembrini ("Andi"), the real mastermind behind Cauldron, will continue to put it on so that others will have the same opportunity I had. I would certainly like to attend Cauldron again...though probably not more than every other year. 

It was a very long journey, after all.
; )

All right, folks. Expect more thoughts (especially as relates to game play) after I get back to Seattle; now that I'm not busy prepping for the con, I should have (a little) extra time to blog. If people have specific questions for me regarding the convention, please leave them in the comments section; I will be more than happy to answer them (and provide long-winded commentary, I'm sure).


Monday, October 16, 2023

Something Dragon-y

AKA Why let the rules bother us?

Don't believe I've shared this pic on Ye Old Blog yet:

So that, my friends, is a culmination of both my obsession with DragonLance, and my completist collection habits: the fourteen original TSR-published adventure modules, DL1 through DL14. DL11: Dragons of Glory is, unfortunately, missing the counters...but since I've never owned, read, or played the BattleSystem rules, that's not much skin off my nose.

Why O Why would I put out the money for such a spread? Nostalgia? Some unfulfilled desire from my childhood of wanting to own and/or run DragonLance? Morbid curiosity? My natural hoarding instinct?

Nah. I actually wanted the maps (most of these have good maps and not-too-terrible ideas for dungeons), and..(yes, this part is insane)...and some Quixotic notion that I might rehabilitate the series for my own, and others, enjoyment. 

[yeah, I admit that bit IS crazy]

But MORE than either of those things, I wanted to see how this...the first, really large scale themed D&D campaign...was designed. What went into the series? How was it written to take characters from relatively low level (all apologies to the OSE crowd, but 4th - 6th is LOW level for AD&D), to a respectably HIGH level (10th-14th for the final module of the series).

I haven't finished reading them all, nor am I reading them in chronological order. The majority of the modules are new to me (though I've owned DL1 for a while, and the first four in a later compilation book) and, for the most part, I've been reading them in order of what interests me: DL6 (blood and snow), DL10 (freaky dream-stuff), DL14 (showdown with Tiamat!), and DL13 (do the PCs fight Bahamut, er, Paladine?). The original concept for DragonLance was an attempt to write a series of modules, each of which would feature ONE of the 12 dragons (metallic and chromatic) in the original Monster Manual. That there are 14 modules in the series does not mean the designers over-stepped; DL5 is a setting book (providing info on the campaign world of DragonLance) and DL11 is a boardgame/wargame with its own rules used to simulate the Dragon War (I think...haven't actually gotten around to perusing that one yet, but it seems to be a different animal from BattleSystem). 

SO...setting aside those "supplemental" entries into the DL saga, we have the following adventures:

DL1: Dragons of Despair (for PCs levels 4th-6th)
DL2: Dragons of Flame (5th-7th)
DL3: Dragons of Hope (6th-8th)
DL4: Dragons of Desolation (6th-8th)
DL6: Dragons of Ice (6th-9th)
DL7: Dragons of Light (7th-9th)
DL8: Dragons of War (8th-10th)
DL9: Dragons of Deceit (8th-10th)
DL10: Dragons of Dreams (8th-10th)
DL12: Dragons of Faith (9th-10th)
DL13: Dragons of Truth (10th-13th)
DL14: Dragons of Triumph (10th-14th)

Of course, even though they're written for a particular level range, none of the adventures appear to provide enough experience points to advance the characters at the rates listed. Not that THAT matters: each module opens with a strong suggestion that the adventure be played with the pregenerated PCs provided. And those simply seem to advance "as needed," perhaps in order to fulfill the needs of "the epic story" that is DragonLance.

Rules don't really seem to be the Hickmans' strong I pointed out in prior reviews of Ravenloft, it's fairly clear that their knowledge of the actual game for which they're writing (i.e. 1st edition AD&D) has a lot of holes in it. You find it in the DL modules as well: demihumans exceeding racial limits (Tanis, Flint), characters in classes they don't qualify for (Riverwind), dual-class characters that don't qualify as such (Tika), advancement that just seems waaaay off (Caramon advances to 12th level fighter by the end of the series...1,000,001 x.p. needed...while his magic-user brother only achieves level 11...350,000-750,000 x.p....and trails 2-3 levels behind him for most of the series. What?).

But, whatever. The series has worse malfeasances...plenty of them, from "obscure death" rules, to inconsistent economies, to lack of value (in g.p. or x.p.) of new magic items, to forcing players to recite bad poetry.  *sigh*  Just...a lot of stuff that's not "good D&D."

[the capper, of course, is that the characters do NOT fight, the final adventure. Instead, in a nod to the success of Ravenloft, they make you pick from a random of selection of six possible ways of achieving victory, four of which involve an NPC doing the actual work of "defeating" the Dark Queen, and none of which involve facing her directly. What a gyp]

Even so, the IDEA of DragonLance is pretty "epic." Dragon-riding warlords leading armies of humanoids in a world-conquering jihad, spurred on by their theocrat-emperor...and all the vanilla fantasy goody-goodies forced to grow a pair or end up enslaved in an iron mine somewhere. All it needs is some human sacrifice stuff to be a bit more sword &'s really not that far off (although I kind of hate draconians. 

[also...why does Takhisis reside in the Abyss? She's still Lawful Evil (as are the dragon army officers)...what's the matter with keeping her on her rightful plane in Hell? My theory that the Hickmans never bothered to learn more than OD&D (and still use a Law vs. Chaos alignment axis) remains viable]

The rather interesting thing to do here...and, I think, the proper tactic to to work BACKWARDS through these adventures in formulating the basis for a campaign. I've never written "detective fiction," but my understanding is that one must first conceive of the crime (the murder, the killer, the motives, etc.) and THEN obfuscate it such that the protagonist must follow the clues needed to unravel the thing. In this case, I must conceive of the whole Dragon War: how the armies gather, how they invade, how the nations of the world fall (and when they fall)...all BEFORE setting the PCs loose in some town or other. "Steel pieces" and "kender" are, of course, right out the window (for reasons I've written about extensively in past, for example). 

[I *do* kind of like the idea of "false clerics," however]

Working backwards, using DL14 and its source material (as well as DL11's "mini-wargame") I can set up the entirety of the setting, throw down all the various "dungeons" (from the published modules) and construct my own timeline of war events, that will be going on in the background while the PCs adventure and investigate. This is something I first had a mind to do a couple years back, but was stymied by my lack of the source material...said source material now having been acquired, I could set things in motion if I really wanted.

The PROBLEM is...I really kind of love my current campaign world. And I'm not sure I want to blow it up with cataclysmic events (no pun intended). And I don't think it would just "work" to throw the DL scenario on top of the existing Red Empire is no "knights of Solamnia," and would probably rough up any dragon highlords that sought to overthrow the emperor. 


I could put my own game on hold for a bit, and just run Krynn. That's not a terrible idea, though there's a lot about the world I dislike (friendly minotaurs, walrus men, tinker gnomes, etc.). No, Krynn kind of sucks. Plus, I don't particularly like the lay of its land(mass).


Okay, it's late and I need to sleep (a reason, perhaps, for some of the grouchiness on display). I'll post this in the morning. Later, gators!
; )

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Final Exams

Friday evening I had my last round of playtesting for the upcoming Cauldron convention in Germany. Two weeks from now I'll be IN Germany, running 1st edition AD&D for a table of complete strangers.

Slightly daunting.

I wish I could give folks a complete session report, as I know most of my readers will probably NOT be at the con. But, I really don't want to put a bunch of spoilers out into cyber-space. Oh, but it's hard! It was so much fun! Here's what I can tell you:

As I (believe I) posted earlier, my initial intention was to run THREE time slots at the con, all under the working title Storming the Forbidden City.  The title comes from the old TSR adventure module I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (author: David Cook). For the first two time slots I have two scenarios, adapted (more-or-less) directly from situations and maps in the adventure. They're not exactly what you'd find in the module, and (for convention purposes) they're self-contained, designed to be accomplished in the four hour time slot.

For the scenario #3, however, I created an all new dungeon: still part of the Forbidden City, still connected to the first two scenarios, still with a "snaky" theme to it...but otherwise, all new. 

And, of course, I needed to test it.

So Friday I ran it for my players. A party of seven 7th level characters (an assassin, two fighters, a cleric, a magic-user, a thief, and a ranger) and one 4th level bard (6th fighter/5th thief). The result? They made it in, penetrated to the bottom-most level, fought five monster encounters (including a running battle), set off a couple of traps/hazards, found two of the largest treasure pockets (and looted them), and got back to the stairway out just as time was expiring.

One character deceased, one character zeroed out; over 174K in treasure experience (split seven ways). The biggest, baddest opponent in the dungeon: destroyed (with a bit of very good luck), and its head mounted on a spike (by the PCs) at the dungeon's entrance. Four of the survivors (including the bard and magic-user) leveled up. All-in-all, a fairly successful delve for my players...and they'd like to continue exploring the Forbidden City, going forward.

And perhaps we will. However, as these have been convention scenarios, and there aren't enough players to fill out the ranks needed (I have only three regulars at this time), there have been a passel of NPCs accompanying the group at every stage. And I think the NPCs (not henchmen, mind you!) have had enough at this point. They're ready to take their spoils and get back to civilization (well, Portland, if you can call that "civilization"...). Plus several party members (including Maceo's bard) have been inflicted with a terrible rotting curse, and since the cleric was once again killed (in about the most horrible death this group has seen at a table), and since they are "rich," and since they were rather fortunate...multiple times! escape with their lives...

Yeah, I think I'm going to be closing the book on I1...for the nonce. The party can re-equip and re-supply in the nearest town (and hire a few henchmen) if they want to continue exploring the ancient city of the yuan-ti.

Things I Learned (and needed modifications)

Surprisingly, it turns out my last statement on the prior blog post was very nearly a lie: they encountered almost ZERO yuan-ti in the adventure, despite there being rather a lot of them stocked in the thing. Which is kind of like going to the demonweb pits and not fighting demonic spiders in some way, shape, or form. Not sure that's acceptable. 

A more robust wandering monster table may be needed. The party was not one to dither in their decision making, but they did backtrack over long stretches multiple times, and while they went through a LOT of torches, they were largely untroubled by random encounters (though one at the end had a 45% of auto-ending a PC...she made her saving throw). 

The players have a bag of holding which makes the collection of large loot piles fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, NONE of the pregens I'm bringing for the convention do, which might be problematic for any players that show up at my table. The three scenarios I've written are scaled by level (#1 is for characters 5th-7th, #2 is for 6th-8th, and #3 is for 7th-9th). Though I anticipate a full table of eight players...just based on the logistics of the con, not MY "draw" (there aren't all that many games on the docket)...if the PCs don't have a way to gather treasure, it makes it hard to level up between scenarios. And lesser leveled characters are going to get gaffled.  I suppose the solution (which I've already arrived at) is make sure there are enough pregens (and replacement pregens) of the appropriate levels for each scenario. BUT since returning players are likely to want to use their own PCs (or the same pregen from earlier scenarios), leveling between sessions does become quite important.

Mm. I'll have to ponder on that. I'm certainly not going to just hand out free levels!

Which brings up a related note that I've had since my first session: what to do with players whose characters have died? Attrition is built into the adventures: it is expected that some characters will be lost along the way. When player characters have fallen (for example, in my last playtest, we saw six of eight knocked out of action with four killed outright), my players simply took over remaining NPCs in order to continue play. In a convention game with a full table (again, anticipated simply based on logistics), there aren't likely to be "spare" NPCs available. I suppose the trick is to allow new characters/pregens to "show up" as wanderers for the players running on empty. HOWEVER...will this throw off the scaled difficulty of the scenario? At SOME point, I want replacements to be unavailable...a trade deadline, of sorts. Certainly, upon reaching a certain level of the scenario (there are multiple levels) or when there's only a certain amount of time left...say, the final 20 minutes of the time slot. Or both (i.e. whichever occurs first). And perhaps there's a finite number to replacement characters available. Yeah...maybe a mix of all three of these things (time, level, number) will be used to set the limits.

*whew*  I have to say, I'm still worried. The players did everything just about perfect...including the route they took. Oh, they made a couple-three minor mistakes, but nothing catastrophic, and they had some exceptionally good luck: their chance of taking down the Big Bad (which could have easily accounted for half the party if not all of them) was exactly 1.75%, given the method they employed. Amazing. I actually half-assumed that most groups would exercise a bit more discretion (and still die horribly)...such was not the case, and the rewards reaped were well-deserved. 

Still, knowing when to "quite while ahead" is most definitely an acquired "player skill" and my players were ready to skeedaddle after that. Two more encounters dispatched on the way out, one more NPC slain, said...they hit the exit right as the timer went off.

Would other players be as fortunate? That's the question. Is the scenario too difficult and my group just benefitted from some sweet dice rolling? Or is it easier than I anticipated and ANY bunch of halfway competent players would make out like bandits?

Well, I'm not going to have time to run another test, even if I had a second group of players (though I suppose I might try recruiting AB and Kris for a foray...hmmm). No, I think I'm going to have to let it stand as is...though with a bit more "beef" in the random encounters.

No, I think (at this point) what I have to focus on is getting my play-aids ready for the con: cheat sheets and monster rosters and lists of spells that include casting times and ranges for easy reference. Also probably need to curate the pregens spell lists a bit: for the play-test, I allowed the players to pick the MU's spells, but staples of low level play (sleep and charm person for example) are a lot less useful at this middle tier of D&D play. "X the Mystic" came in handy with a couple of his utility spells, but was otherwise ineffectual over the course of the session. That needs work.

All right, that's about it. This has been a pretty rough week for Yours Truly...going to relax for a bit, watch a little football, and decompress. More compression (I'm sure) will start tomorrow.
; )

Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Thank you!

Good stuff lies below...

Monday, October 9, 2023

Another Forbidden Foray

Time is getting closer to my Germany trip, and what free time I've had (not much) has been spent writing/designing my adventures I plan on running at Cauldron. Just finished the third one, mmm, Sunday morning. That's the one that's cut from whole cloth, a completely new delve into the yuan-ti's "Holiest of Holies." Came to about 11 pages, not including maps, pregens, and play-aids.

But I haven't been able to test it. Still had to re-run adventure #2 for the con. I was doing that on Sunday for four hours (well, 3 hours and forty minutes). It's still a killer, but at least this time it wasn't a total party killer. Threw an extra NPC into the party (a 6th level paladin, Fairburne, complete with magic armor and frost brand longsword), and the party was STILL nearly done in: four out of seven survivors, two of whom were "zeroed out" (though they were stabilized at -1 and -3 respectively), and the other two in single-digit hit points. And this is AFTER the group had already made a run at the thing and knew (somewhat) what to expect. Yeah, it's a bit of a ball-buster.

Fairburne did not survive, having been reduced to something like -18.

[for folks who don't remember my original post on the topic, I'm re-writing/re-purposing I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City for the convention. The pre-gens and NPCs, including Fairburne, are all being taken from those included in the original module...although players are, of course, allowed to bring their own characters]

Still, a win is a win, and the survivors are all 7th level now (well, except for Olaf Peacock, who's a 6th/5th/4th level bard), which is the minimum level I pegged for my third scenario, a little something I call "Shrine of the Demon Goddess" (catchy, right?). But I have to come up with enough NPCs to round out the party, and I'm running out of module pregens. It's a damn shame Daniel the cleric died, as he probably would have leveled up, and a raise dead spell would have come in real handy. I've got Gavin (halfling thief), Marcella (ranger), and X the Mystic (magic-user) all ready to go, but the only cleric left on the roster is Orrem, a 6th level canon, and I just don't think that's going to cut it in an adventure written for levels 7th to 9th. I suppose I could just boost him to level 7 (and that's probably what I'll end up doing), in the name of expediency...the party can always give him Fairburne's plate mail +1.

And expediency is the key word, here. Because more than running short on characters, I'm running short on TIME. I've got a little more than two weeks before I'm hopping aboard Iceland Air, and I need to figure out just what sort of monster I've created for scenario #3. A fairly beefy one, even for eight 7th level characters, from the looks of it (though not one without adequate rewards). When am I going to get a chance to run another four hour adventure session with our busy schedule?

Hm. Okay, just noticed the kids are out of school Friday ("teacher retreat"). Let's pencil that in.

All right, all right...apologies for yet another "throwaway" blog post, but typing this stuff up helps me organize the thoughts running 'round my head. The kids were pretty stoked about the adventure. We go weeks, sometimes, without playing D&D because of our incredibly busy schedules, and we all forget how much damn fun it is. Oh, the pleading last night to fudge dice rolls was in high demand...the attempts at wheedling...and, yet, everyone came through the thing richer and wiser (if not exactly unscathed), and happy. And excited. And rarin' to play more.  All thoughts of Minecraft and Fortnite and stupid video game garbage gone from their heads...the kids got up this morning and all they wanted to talk about over breakfast and the drive into school was Dungeons & Dragons: how they did, what's going to happen next, when can we set aside time for our next game. 

Lovely and delightful.

Okay, I've got to get to my morning chores. More later.

No yuan-ti were harmed (nor encountered) in the
running of this adventure scenario. This
will NOT be the case in the next adventure session.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Why Pathfinder Sucks

HAHAHA. Sorry...sometimes I amuse myself.

This post comes c/o reader "Mach," who emailed me the following:
I was reading your blog about the various editions and I found a bit where you said you didn't think pathfinder was suitable for the type of long term campaign play you had in mind. Could you expound on that please? Reason I ask is because I'm a little worried and mainly curious, I've run a fair bit of pathfinder and I'm worried there might be something I'm missing or a cliff somewhere at higher levels or some such. Or maybe it causes players to drift away to other games, or some such more subtle issue.
I sent Mach a response (as I tend to do when folks write me questions like that). Mach, for his part, appreciated my answers and suggested I incorporate it into a blog post "so that I'm not the only one that will benefit from it." 

I have (good) friends who
LOVE Pathfinder...FYI
Since it's Friday, and yesterday's reflections were (perhaps) less-than-useful to (many) readers, I offer the following elaboration on previous statements (of mine) that Pathfinder is (maybe) not the best system for long-term campaign play. From my email to Mach:
My thoughts on the unsuitability of Pathfinder to long-term play is based on A) my experience with the D20 (3rd edition) D&D system on which PF was based, and B) my thoughts on just what entails "long-term play." 

That being said, I will readily admit that I have no experience playing Pathfinder, and I haven't even read the latest edition of PF, nor do I have any idea of the changes to the system with the new version. Perhaps, PF2 is more suitable to (what I consider) long-term play and I am simply ignorant of the fact. 

The issue I have with D20 (which colors my perception of PF) is that, over the course of playing, the inherent complexity of the game scales in a way that makes the thing untenable. D&D is a game that begins simply...even the third edition...and adds complexity as the game progresses (i.e. as characters gain levels and access more content). More information needs to be mastered by the players of course, but far more information by the DMs. But the mechanical complexity of D20 is such that, over the course of play: 
  1. it becomes extremely cumbersome for the DM, such that they quit or end the campaign (I've seen this personally on two occasions), AND/OR 
  2. the DM begins discarding "excess" rules, or ignoring rules that make running the campaign "burdensome." But D20 is a mechanically complex game, fine-tuned to an extreme degree, and easily thrown out of whack when rules are bypassed. 
Sure, there are probably some DMs may have a higher capacity for the minutia of running a D20 campaign at mid- to high-levels (I've seen DMs throw up their hands as early as level 7; I've seen DMs try running adventures for 15th level PCs (pre-gens) that gave up after a single encounter). But are the rules conducive to long-term play? Do they facilitate it? 

In comparison, AD&D (1E) is a robust system that provides depth without the added complexity/fiddly-ness. Monsters operate on a different scale than players. PCs, for the most part, "plateau" after reaching "name" level: their abilities increase but not in the same exponential capacity. There is less information to juggle; more attention can be paid (by the DM) to the campaign world, as opposed to making sure encounters are properly balanced and the various mechanical t's are crossed and i's dotted. In this way, 1E is more conducive to long-term comparison to 3E/PF. 

3E (again, the basis for Pathfinder) had a LOT of material written for it...including high level material (the Epic Level Handbook and whatnot). In THEORY the game will function at high levels... 

[why do I continue to bring up "high level" play? Because over time...i.e. over the "long-term"...characters progress, gain x.p. and become high level. High level play is a part of long-term play] THEORY the game functions at high levels. It has the rules, the mechanics, the support to make the game function. The practicality, however, makes it (in my opinion) cumbersome. Because long-term play is MORE than just having the content to fulfill the needs of a 12th or 14th level party. 

To run a long-term campaign, you need to build a world: a world of sufficient depth to provide meaning to the (imaginary) lives of the PCs. They need to be able to do more than simply plumb the next dungeon or go on the next quest...such adventures will, in time, inevitably PALE, if they have neither meaning nor relevance to the game world. 

And so you need to build a world. But in a system where one must have level 12 citizens and level 3 artisans and level 9 nobles and monsters with six stats, skills, and that type of system, the burden of creating a deep world is IMMENSELY cumbersome. 

Whereas, in a simpler system (say AD&D) I can say "90% of the people in this town are 0-level and possess d6 hit points." I can stat out the duke or burgormeister or tavern owner or stable boy with the roll of a D6. Rather than having to worry about the excessive mechanics, the minutia, I can focus on their personal goals, their relationships with other NPCs, the various things they might have to offer the PCs, etc. 

I don't have to worry about how feats and skills interact with the environment when there are no feats and skills. See? 
And then...what? Start over again at 1st level? What's the endgame here? 

"Long-term play" is not about reaching an endpoint. It's not about getting to a particular level...though (as I said) played long enough, characters will reach high levels. It's about having a perpetual game, a dynamic world, that players get to dip their toes into and experience...and live in for a time. The game aspects (the systems, the mechanics) are part of it...part of the game, part of the fun...but they are not the End All Be All. The WORLD you are building...and the legends the players create within the world...are the thing that's important. And that takes a fine balance: a system (or "rules") that have depth and complexity but not so much that it's overwhelming...just enough to model what needs to be modeled, to model those bits of reality that require rules. 

So that the game can last. So that YOU (the DM) can fully engage your imagination and yet still run the game in a practical, functional fashion. 

You can do "long term play" with ANY edition of Dungeons & Dragons (I think)...but some editions make it easier to do. And some make it harder.
There...something for Friday afternoon musings.